NPR logo Jerry Hadley, Operatic Tenor, Dies at 55

Jerry Hadley, Operatic Tenor, Dies at 55

Listen to a remembrance featuring musical highlights from Hadley's career

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American tenor Jerry Hadley died Wednesday after eight days in a coma. Hadley was a protege of soprano Dame Joan Sutherland and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge. He was a leading American tenor for almost 20 years with a voice that could be rich and dramatic or light and lively. He excelled in roles ranging from Puccini's La bohème and Mozart's Don Giovanni to John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, and even performed on Broadway.

Hadley was found unconscious and severely wounded at his home near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on July 10, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. According to friends, Hadley was suffering from severe depression and facing the prospect of declaring bankruptcy.

His career had tapered off in the last five years from the heights of starring at the Metropolitan Opera and in Vienna, London and Milan. But Hadley was still singing major roles around the world. Just this spring, he sang in Madame Butterfly in Australia. A recent review mentioned his "rich, full voice" and praised him as a "wonderful performer, animated and confident."

A few years ago, Hadley went back to alma mater, Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., to give a series of workshops and master classes. Dr. Jeffrey Huberman, Dean of the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, loved the way Hadley adapted to a wide variety of characters.

"He could change the voice to fit the character," Huberman says. "It was an amazing thing. There are some singers that no matter what part they are playing, you can hear that voice and it's always distinct. And what Jerry could do is he could make that voice fit the character. It was really astonishing stuff."

One of Hadley's closest friends was baritone singer Thomas Hampson. He says, "I've heard Jerry in his best of moments — with orchestra and piano and opera. To be around a colleague who has that much of a specialist in him — when it was special, it was just staggeringly beautiful."

American Public Media, based in St. Paul, Minn., presents a diverse array of musical offerings, from pop and folk to award-winning classical music programs such as 'Performance Today' and 'Pipedreams.'